Zimbabwe News Online (120) - 5/15/98

Zimbabwe News Online (120) - 5/15/98


Edition #20 15 May 1998

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In this edition:
Feature - Why Mugabe does not want constitution changed
1. Government ministers in land grab scandal
2. Government exceeds borrowing limit
3. TelecomYens technicians go on strike
4. Air Zimbabwe crew members face smuggling charges
5. High Court dismisses police application
6. Dismissed traffic controllers petition court
7. VIPs get deadline to repay illegal loans
8. Scramble for lucrative WCC tender
9. Stalemate in Sheraton contract talks
10. Government wants to make job stayaways illegal
11. Mugabe to hand over OAU chairmanship
12. Banana joins Apostolic sect
13. Government cancels bank's licence


Why Mugabe does not want constitution changed

The constitution of Zimbabwe could be described as one of the most undemocratic in the world, and one which virtually places the president above the law.

Zimbabwe's constitution was to a large extent drafted by the British administration who brokered the cease-fire which ended the war between the Rhodesian government and black Zimbabweans who were fighting for their independence. It was obviously not a constitution by the people and certainly needed to be amended in many ways.

Unfortunately, the 14 amendments which were later made to the constitution made it even worse than it had been when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980. The amendments were done without the participation of the people, and most of the changes were designed to give more power to the president.

The changes have made President Mugabe virtually unanswerable to anyone. As executive president, he is the head of state, head of government, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, chancellor of all state universities and patron of this and that. He appoints High Court and Supreme Court judges, police commissioners, army commanders, permanent secretaries of all government ministries without any obligation to listen to the public, the judiciary or Civil Service Commission.

He appoints commissions of inquiry and is not obliged to make the findings public. Since independence he has appointed many commissions, and only one, the Sandura Commission, had its findings made public. This commission investigated what has become popularly known as the Willowgate scandal, a scandal in which ministers and other top government officials were using their privileged positions to buy cars from Willowvale Motor Industry at a fixed price and reselling them at huge profits. Cars were in short supply at that time (1987).

And the reason for making the findings of this inquiry public was that there was nothing else to hide as the Press had exposed virtually everything.

One of the most notorious changes made to the constitution was the creation of the Political Parties Finance Act which entitles the ruling party to Z$65 million of public funds a year. No other party qualifies for funding under this act which stipulates that in order to qualify for such funding, a party must have at least 15 Parliamentary seats. The only opposition party with seats in Parliament is Zanu Ndonga with only two.

The other notorious amendment to the constitution gave the president the power to appoint 30 non-constituency MPs on top of the 120 elected ones. This would give the ruling party an unfair advantage over other political parties in the event ofviable opposition in Parliament since those 30 non-constituency MPs chosen by the president would obviously be members of the ruling party. This means the ruling party will need only 46 of the 120 contested seats to have a majority in Parliament.

Mugabe also appoints the Electoral Supervisory Commission. For the above reasons, eight opposition parties boycotted the last general elections.

Tendai Biti a constitutional lawyer says the Presidential Powers Act is a Draconian piece of legislation which Mugabe has unashamedly used to benefit his political party. He cited the shifting of the deadlines for submission of nomination papers in elections to accommodate members of the ruling party, Zanu PF.

"For example, in 1989 the Kariba constituency fell vacant when Enos Nkala resigned after being implicated in the Willowgate scandal. A Zanu PF candidate was late in meeting the 11 am deadline for submitting his nomination papers. Mugabe then wielded the Presidential Powers Act to extend the deadline to 5 pm," Biti said.

In 1989 an opposition politician, Patrick Kombayi was shot and seriously wounded by two government security operatives who were subsequently tried by the courts and sentenced to nine years each. Mugabe again used his presidential powers to pardon the two before they had even served a week of their sentences. In 1987 he also pardoned one of his ministers, Frederick Shava, who had been jailed for his involvement in the Willowgate scandal.

Under the Presidential Powers Act, Mugabe can dissolve Parliament and rule by decree if Parliament wanted him out office by passing a vote of no confidence.

Another constitutional law expert, Welshman Ncube, said the unlimited powers vested in Mugabe made nonsense of trying to distinguish between the Executive, Legislature and the Judiciary as Mugabe is under no obligation to obey the Legislature and the Judiciary.

"Both the Legislature and the Judiciary can be bullied into submission through the excessive powers the president wields", Ncube said.

The above facts and many others too numerous to mention explain why Mugabe is so hostile to anyone who talks about the need for a new constitution. Masvingo Central Member of Parliament, Dzikamai Mavhaire who moved a motion in Parliament calling for a review of the constitution and the limiting of the presidential term has since been suspended from the ruling party.

Following a national conference ofthe ruling party which among other things had resolved that the government should put in place a system to undertake a comprehensive review of the constitution, Mavhaire had thus moved a motion in Parliament calling on the government to implement this resolution.

Perhaps he should not have been specific about his feelings on constitutional changes, because it is the bit on calling for the limiting of the presidential term of office which stirred the hornet's nest. Now following the suspension of Mavhaire from the party, other MPs are now scared to discuss anything to do with the constitution, lest the axe also falls on them.

However, civil society has also stepped up its pressure on government to have the constitution changed. A civic organisation, the National Constitution Assembly has been formed to spearhead constitutional reform. It consists of human rights organisations, trade unions, Christian organisations, business organisations and political parties, and is chaired by the charismatic secretary general of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Says Tsvangirai: "The aim of the assembly is to create an awareness among the people through debate on the need for a new constitution and to contribute to a democratic change that will lay the foundation for a transparent and accountable government."


Government ministers in land grab scandal

Cabinet ministers, top civil servants and influential business executives have hijacked the government's Commercial Land Resettlement Scheme and taken over some vast estates meant for the settlement of agricultural graduates and trained farmers.

According to a report carried by the Financial Gazette, at least three estates covering more than 62 000 hectares that were earmarked for the Commercial Land Settlement Scheme are already occupied by top government officials and business executives.

Coburn Estates, one of the largest and richest commercial estates formerly owned by the Agricultural and Rural Development Authority, was taken over by the government in 1996 for the purpose of settling agricultural graduates from the country's training institutions. However, instead of the intended beneficiaries, ministers, permanent secretaries and business executives have already settled on the estate.

Most of the people who have settled on the estate are said to be from Mashonaland West, the province from which President Mugabe comes.

Sesombi and Endeavour estates also meant for the same settlement scheme has also been occupied by politicians, top government officials and businessmen. Under the scheme which is administered by the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture, applicantsto the scheme are supposed to be interviewed to establish whether they qualify to be resettled under the scheme. It is said that those who were interviewed early last year for settlement at the estates have to date not received any feed back.

This land grab by influential people comes at a time when the government is battling to implement its land reform programme aimed at resettling thousands of landless peasant families throughout the country.

Britain, Zimbabwe's former colonial power has refused to support the land reform programme in present form, saying it was not transparent and does not address poverty alleviation.

Government exceeds borrowing limit

The Zimbabwe government notoriously known for its profligacy exceeded the prescribed domestic borrowing limit during the last financial year by Z$72,8 billion without Parliamentary approval as is required by law.

In a report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday by the Minister of Finance, Herbert Murerwa, the Comptroller and Auditor-General, Mr Eric Harid, said he was concerned by the continued increase in public debt which stood at Z$ 51 607 189 700 last year. Public debt stood at only Z$1 666 607 091 at independence in 1980.

The borrowing limit as set by the State Loans and Guarantees Act is 30 percent of the total revenue collected in the previous financial year. During the 1995/96 financial year the total revenue collected was Z$15,3 billion and the government was supposed to borrow only up to Z$4,6 billion as opposed to the Z$72,8 billion it borrowed.

The Auditor-General said some ministries had not been able to reconcile their accounts over the past three years.

Meanwhile, government lost Z$1,2 billion through fraud. Most of the fraudulent activities occurred in the Ministries of Defence, Home Affairs andLabour and Social Welfare.

TelecomYens technicians go on strike

Hundreds of Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (PTC) technicians on Tuesday went on strike demanding to be awarded a salary increase as their counterparts on Net One which operates the cellular system.

Technicians on Net One were awarded a salary increase to prevent them from leaving the corporation for greener pastures with the PTC's competitors in the cellular business. This angered the other technicians working on the fixed network who felt they were being discriminated against.

The technicians have vowed to continue on strike until their salaries are increased to match their counterparts on Net One.

Air Zimbabwe crew members face smuggling charges

Air Zimbabwe has suspended seven staff members over allegations of smuggling hundreds of cartons of cigarettes into Europe.

The cigarettes, mostly Benson & Hedges have a ready market in Europe, especially in the UK. Sources within Air Zimbabwe said the illegal export of cigarettes has been going on for a very long time and that those involved were selling the cigarettes at 20 times their cost in Zimbabwe, thereby making huge profits.

The smuggling was unearthed when bags containing the cigarettes misconnected in Frankfurt and were send back to Harare where it was discovered the bags contained large quantities of cigarettes which had been illegally exported.

Air Zimbabwe spokesman, David Mwenga said it was not clear how these smugglers managed to get the cigarettes into the UK. Some people within the corporation suspect the racket might have involved some British Customs staff.

High Courtdismisses police application

The High Court last week dismissed with costs an application by the repressive Zimbabwe Republic Police to bar University of Zimbabwe students from staging a demonstration against police brutality.

The application was thrown out by Justice Simbi Mubako and the students marched from the university into the city centre. They were protesting against the shooting two weeks ago ofMorememories Chawira a third year student. Chawira was shot in the neck and is still battling for his life in the intensive care unit at Parirenyatwa Hospital.

The police wanted to bar the students from staging the protest because they feared troublemakers would join the demonstration and create chaos in the city centre. However, the demonstration was totally peaceful much to the embarrassment of the police.

The students carried placards calling for the suspension ofPolice Commissioner Augustine Chihuri. They also carried placards calling on Mugabe to step down. One of the placards read: "Mugabe you are now irrelevant. Go and rest oldman."

The vice chancellor of the university, Professor Graham Hill and the senior chaplain Mr Sebastian Bakare joined the students in the march.

Dismissed traffic controllers petition court

More than 60 air traffic controllers who were dismissed from the Department of Civil Aviation for going on strike in December last year have petitioned the High Court to nullify their dismissal.

The applicants are contesting the decision to dismiss them on grounds that proper procedures were not followed in their dismissal and that the Public Service Commission (PSC) was biased in dismissing them. Their affidavit says dismissing them was so grossly unreasonableas to warrant and justify the intervention of the High Court.

The chairman of the Public Service Commission is cited as the first respondent while the Minister of Transport and Energy under whose jurisdiction the Department of Civil Aviation falls, is the second respondent.

The government dismissed the 67 air traffic controllers after they went on strike pressing for improved working conditions and charging that because of the poor condition of the equipment they used, Zimbabwe's airspace had become unsafe, an allegation the government has denied.

VIPYens get deadline to repay illegal loans

Beneficiaries of the government's Very Important Persons (VIP) housing scheme, under which top government officials and influential individuals built mansions using funds contributed by poorly-paid civil servants under the "Start paying for your house scheme", have been given six years to repay the money or lose their properties, a cabinet minister said this week.

Local Government and National Housing Minister John Nkomo in an interview said his ministry had written to all the beneficiaries informing them of the need to make arrangements to settle their arrears for houses built under the scheme which was declared illegal by the High Court last year.

The cash-strappedgovernment is seeking to recover more than Z$200 million owed by the beneficiaries, although the outstanding amount is understood to be much higher because some of the work carried out by government had not been costed. Nkomo said the government would only recover the actual cost without interest since the manner in which agreements were concluded was flawed.

Under the scheme, which led to the abrupt suspension of the construction of popular low-cost apartments and houses for civil servants in high density urban areas countrywide, the government would build or renovate houses for some top government officials and well-connected individuals, even without payment of any deposit.

Scramble for lucrative WCC tender

A Z$56 million deal between the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) to provide accommodation and food when the WCC holds its eighth assembly in Harare in December has triggered a scramble among some influential politicians and members of the UZ Council bidding to clinch the deal to provide the catering facilities.

UZ insiders said a cabinet minister and a member of the UZ Council had declared their interest in the catering tender. A total of 7 000 international delegates are expected to converge in Harare from December 3 to 18 for the WCC Assembly. Of these, 3 000 delegates would be housed at the UZ on full board. The remaining 4 000 would be housed elsewhere in the city but having lunch and dinner at the campus.

Rough estimates by an expert familiar with the food industry show that the winner of the tender could make a profit of more than Z$10 million in just two weeks. However, it is not yet known whether the tender will be split to allow more players as details of the tender to be floated are not yet available.

Stalemate in Sheraton contract talks

The government and international hotel group ITT Sheraton have reached a stalemate in talks on the hotel chain's contract to manage the government-owned five-star Harare Sheraton Hotel.

According to a report published in the Financial Gazette, the government wants the contract revised while the ITT Sheraton is not keen to have the contract revised. The government is reported to have submitted its proposals for the revision of the contract so that it can intervene in the running of the hotel and ensure viability and stability in one of the country's leading hospitality institutions.

The government is also understood to have indicated that it wanted to be involved in the selection process of the hotel's general manager in future, currently the preserve of ITT Sheraton management.

The government signed a 20-year contract with ITT Sheraton in 1983 for the management of the Harare Sheraton, to help Zimbabwe meet world-class standards in hotel services and management.

The chief executive of the Rainbow Tourism Group through which the government runs the Harare Sheraton, Herbert Nkala, confirmed that his team had presented some proposals to the ITT Sheraton officials for the revision of the contract. He said they had promised to come back with an answer in the near future. However, sources at the Harare Sheraton said the ITT Sheraton officials had insisted that the contract can only be revised after the current one expires in 2003.

Government wants to make job stayaways illegal

The Zimbabwe government, jolted by the success of the previous trade union-organized mass job stayaways, the prospect of another one and the growing militancy of the workers, is reported to be considering various ways of making job stayaways illegal.

Sources within the labour movement said the move followed the failure of the show cause orders served on the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and the Employers' Confederation of Zimbabwe last month for going ahead with a two-day job stayaways that brought the country's industry and commerce to a virtual halt.

However, the Labour Tribunal hearing was postponed after ZCTU lawyer Brian Kazoo submitted that the tribunal had no jurisdiction to make a determination on the case. Kazoo, insisting that the show cause order was legally invalid, subsequently wrote to the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Florence Chihuri, asking her whether she still wanted to uphold the order so he could go ahead and challenge it in the High Court.

Chihuri has since referred the matter to the attorney-general's office. However, a trade unionist Mr Alex Matumba said there was already a feeling in the ministry that the show cause orders were illegal and that in view of the likelihood of the ZCTU organizing another stayaways, there was need to find a permanent solution to the problem.

"The information reaching us is that the government is even looking at invoking the Presidential decree should a stayaways be organized," Mr Matumba said.

Mugabe to hand over OAU chairmanship

President Mugabe who has been the chairman of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) since June last year will next month hand over the chairmanship to President Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso at the next OAU summit to be held in the Burkinabe capital, Ouagadougou.

Compaore who got into power through a bloody coup when he assassinated President Thomas Sankara, was in Harare for a briefing with Mugabe. At a press conference at Harare International Airport just before Compaore's departure, Mugabe said, among other things, they had discussed the agenda of the next summit. He said conflict prevention and resolution was supposed to top the agenda.

Economic issues, including the idea of establishing an African Economic Community by the year 2030 would also be discussed. Mugabe said lack of adequate financial resources and armed conflicts were hindering the establishment of an African Economic Community aimed at achieving economic progress on the impoverished continent.

Banana joins Apostolic sect

Zimbabwe's former president and Methodist Church minister, Professor Canaan Banana, has joined the African Apostolic Church.

According to an article published in The People's Voice, members of the African Apostolic Church and its leader Bishop Paul Mwazha have confirmed that Banana was now one of their church members. Banana spent the Passover weekend with other members of the church at Guvambwa in Chikomba district, but he denied that he had joined the church, saying that he had only been invited to preach with the denomination at Easter.

Banana is facing 11 counts of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault. Bishop Farai Chirisa of the Methodist Church said he was not aware that Banana had joined another church. He, however, confirmed that Banana was not doing any church work at the moment as there was a standing church rule that anyone with a pending court case was not allowed to participate in any church activities.

Confirming that Banana was now one of his flock, Bishop Mwazha of African Apostolic Church said the church was there to forgive and not to judge people.

Government cancels bank's licence

The government has cancelled the licence of United Merchant Bank owned by black tobacco merchant and business tycoon, Roger Boa.

The cancellation comes in the wake of reports that the bank no longer has sufficient funds to meet depositors and creditors' claims. It is believed that Mr Boa used most the money to build his tobacco auction floors - the Boa Tobacco Auction Floors - which are the biggest tobacco auction floors in the world.

The Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has appointed the governor of the Reserve Bank as the chief investigator of the bank which was shut down last week, dealing a major blow to Boa since this the peak of the tobacco buying season.


From: (Africa_news Network) Date: Tue, 09 Jun 1998 15:10:05 +0200 Subject: ZIMBABWE NEWS ONLINE #20 Message-ID: <>

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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